During the initial shutdown associated with the coronavirus in March 2020, my workload slowed. I still had enough things to keep me busy every day, but my hair was not on fire. I did not need to begin work before 8 a.m., and I never had to log into work after I put my kids to bed. I had, by all accounts, a better work-life balance during that period. Or, so some self-help books would tell me.
Now comes the problem. I did not take advantage of that time. Instead, I squandered it. I wrung my hands about what was happening to my practice. I dreamed up every possible scenario of how I would have no work in the coming months. I envisioned the evaporation all of the time and effort I had put into building my practice. I fretted about collections, billable hours, and everything between. In sum, I misspent those months, panic stricken rather than exhaling.
As things began to open back up, my hair once again began to ignite. Alas, my practice went back to its normal chaotic state – Stella got her groove back, so to speak. But now, looking back at those few months when I had time to breathe, reflect, and organize, I am both angry and disappointed in myself. Talk about a wasted opportunity.
What is it with lawyers, that we cannot enjoy even the most momentary lapse in chaos? Are we so used to being needed 24 hours per day that when people only need us for 8 hours we feel less than? Have we become hardwired in being expert jugglers of deadlines? Is our “normal” so askew that when nothing is immediately pestering us or an issue isn’t keeping us up at night, we think our practice is ending? Or, is it truly just a personality defect that we “need to be needed”? (As an aside, my husband would argue it’s the latter, but let us not validate his opinons, yes?)
I can anecdotally tell you that I have shared my story of opportunity squandering with a number of lawyers since the initial shutdown. Uniformly, they have confirmed their same response to the lull. As a result, I’ve concluded that we, as a profession, need to take a long, hard look at what makes us tick. Maybe we need to get hobbies. Maybe we need to find joy in the calm. Maybe I should stop rolling up my yoga mat during that last 15 minutes of “quiet meditation” that I currently assess as a total waste of time. Maybe we need to stop craving the chaos.
You’re probably expecting that this final paragraph will now tell you how to do that. I have no answers. But, I think these issues are worth noodling, together. What do you do when there’s a momentary lapse in your practice? Do you take some time and smell the proverbial roses? Or is it all worry and concern that your practice has died? I hope – sincerely hope – you’re in the former category. And if you are, I’m attending your next CLE presentation on this topic.
I’ve concluded that we, as a
profession, need to take a long,
hard look at what makes us tick.
Meet Our Contributors
What is your greatest talent as a lawyer?
I have few talents as a lawyer. Nevertheless, someone once told me that no one will hire you until they like you. I’ve “played to that strength” and it has allowed me to survive in private practice. As for talent, I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are smarter than I am. That hasn’t been too tough to do and it has worked out swimmingly. I have a paralegal who continually makes me look good and attorneys in my firm who are frequently the key to my clients’ successes.
Deanne M. Koll, Bakke Norman S.C., Eau Claire, Menomonie, and New Richmond.
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» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 48 (January 2022).